Sitting and Breathing: Day 27

What a wonderfully chill morning! I mean, it’s fairly cold out, sure, but more in the “relaxed” sense of the word. I ate way too much for dinner last night and passed out on my couch watching SNL. I had very vivid dreams punctuated by my dog moving around or asking to be let out or fed. I went in and out of sleep until around 11am, then ate some leftovers, played with the pup, and did some personal grooming. I suppose I didn’t need to share any of that with you, but then, I don’t really have to share any of this with you, do I?

Today’s meditation was a combination of the walking meditation and the lovingkindness meditation. I skipped the bus and just walked to the train station. I repeated, May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be safe. Then as people came into my consciousness (seen by my actual eyes or my mind’s eye), I’d put my attention on them, May you be peaceful. May you be happy. May you be safe. The streets of Chicago are hectic at this time of day (wet, slushy roads and sidewalks be damned), and I happened to connect with a lot of good friends electronically today, so I had no shortage of other folks to rest my attention on.

Occasionally I’d catch myself caught up in the rhythm of the words, not putting any real intention behind them. I found it easier to hold the individual in my mind if I visualized myself holding their face and staring into their eyes as I imparted my words of lovingkindness. A little creepy? Sure, but it’s my head and I’ll love people how I want, dammit. Also, this method really allowed me the chance to connect to the words in a much deeper way.

By the time I got to the station, I had turned the words into a song resembling Tiny Bubbles. Singing it allowed me to focus on the pleasant tingling of the cold wind on my face. The light crunch of snow that had just fallen combined with the smush of the snow that had already melted became more satisfying under my heavy boots (like when you’re a kid hopping from puddle to puddle). I had a stupid smile on my lips that started somewhere in my toes and went through the entirety of me.

I came out of my meditation as I got to the station. There was a woman crying on the platform where I transfer to the Red Line. A guy who got onto the train next to me said into his phone, “Did you just tell me to suck a dick?!” I can see the gray of the outdoors on most the passengers’ faces around me, but I also see the curling of lips and the brightness of the smiles that persist in spite of the weather.

Dan Harris got me intrigued by saying meditation can make you about 10% happier, and as week 4 of my practice comes to a close, I’m starting to agree.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 24

I got home from work around 6am this morning, walked and fed my dog, had some concentrated petting time so he knows I love him, then passed out. I woke up at 2:30 this afternoon (also 10:30am to feed him and take him out again), and in order to make it to work by 6pm, I need to leave the house around 4:45pm (a bus and two trains, and a little bit of time buffer to account for how temperamental public transit can be). After showering and getting dressed for work, I took him on a 30 minute walk, and handled some finance nonsense.

Given that this is my schedule much of the time, I feel like I am usually in a sort of waking dream state. I also feel like I don’t have a whole lot of me time, no less time to read instructions and meditate. So today I decided to break away from the guided meditation laid out in my book, and do a little mindfulness session of my own making.

There’s a little hipster coffee shop right next to the station where I catch the train, and I’m a big fan of it. The coffee is artisanal, the food is clearly made with a passion, and the staff is always friendly, but my favorite part about it is the atmosphere created by whatever interior designer that these folks had the good sense to employ.

All of the light fixtures are the kind I chose for my bedroom – modern LED lights made to look antique that give off a soft, yellow light that’s even pleasing to look at directly. Tens of them hang from the ceilings on long wires, and some are arranged in two fan-like sculptures with long bulbs that have helical innards.

The wall opposite the coffee bar is lined with a fake ivy, giving it a natural and calming feel. The tables are all dark wood, and they’re fit tightly (but not too tightly) in the small space so even when you sit by yourself, you feel like you’re in a small community.

The bar itself is tiled along the bottom in a way reminiscent of the mosques-turned-cathedrals-or-palaces that dot southern Spain (and other places, but I’ve seen those ones, so that’s what they remind me of). The ornate patterns are supposed to replicate the are starry skies, and were used as meditative inspirations by their designers and whoever hired those designers. Along the top is a two-foot wall of glass, and a lineup of small indoor plants blocking the pipes and wires of all the coffee-making machines.

I ordered a little loaf of bread with feta cheese, tomato, and egg, and a cold brew coffee. I sat at a table at the back of the dining area that looked out at the other guests and the street beyond (interestingly, this is the same spot I sat in last time I was there, and it was the only spot open that time, too). I shed my many layers of winter clothing, set down my backpack, read a little of Real Happiness, then just focused on being there.

I set my fork down between bites. I chewed with awareness of the texture of the bread and sesame seeds along its top. I sipped my coffee, then set it down and closed my eyes, swishing it around I’m my mouth. If I breathed out while chewing on the bread, I got delightful coffee aromas to mix with the savory flavors of the bread.

Occasionally my mind drifted to the other things going on in my life. Occasionally I thought about how cute the young women were in there, some studying, some chatting amongst themselves, the younger ones snapping pictures and giggling loudly. Occasionally I thought about how weird I must look with my hands on my knees, chewing with my eyes closed. But mainly, I was calm, I was relaxed, and I was present, and it was beautiful.

Snap! I finished writing this RIGHT as I arrived at my stop for work. How cool is that shit?

Sitting and Breathing: Day 21

So I flubbed yesterday pretty hardcore. I was on a bit of a time crunch so I thought, “Oh, I’ll just do my meditation on the train on my way to work!” Turns out that isn’t as effective as I’d have liked it to be. Every time I closed my eyes I felt nauseous. Plus I think I’ve had a resistance to meditation for the past couple days due to my emotionality.

My mind has felt like it’s been in a haze of emotion. I feel vaguely stressed by a lot of self-imposed timelines. There’s a long list of Have-To’s that I’ve got running in my head, and I feel the pressure of them all the time.

I have to become a bartender as soon as possible. I have to be more committed to my meditation practice. I have to exercise more often. I have to get myself enrolled in German classes. I have to complete my school application as far in advance as possible. I have to enroll my dog in reactivity classes right away. I have to buy a carpet for the living room. I have to read more. I have to write more. And so on.

Many of those are valid, but they’re all created and fostered by me alone. Really, I don’t have to do any of that, and my life would likely be just fine, but I’ve got it in my head that my happiness is dependent on their completion and it’s been causing me a lot of anxiety lately.

Anyway, I was back to meditating today, and I’m glad I did it. Today’s session was on Lovingkindness (it’s one word in the book, so it’ll be one word here). You start by saying to yourself, May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you live with ease. Then you transfer that attention to others.

The first recipient outside of myself was supposed to be someone for whom I had deep affection, so I chose my dog. Next up was someone that was having a hard time right now. The first object of my attention was an ex and close friend who I know is having a sort of emotional roller coaster of a week (yeah, you), then it moved to a couple friends who have a more perpetually difficult time.

Next up was a person I don’t really know, and I chose that old guy that stands on the corner, and pays zero attention to my dog barking at him. I don’t know that I necessarily harbor animosity toward him, but I will say I’ve been regularly frustrated with him in the past. Come to think of it, I’ve been regularly frustrated with basically everybody who received my Lovingkindness today.

Next was supposed to be someone who I have a hard time hearing, or who I often butt heads with. Per the instructions, I didn’t need to choose someone who the world was at odds with as it would be more challenging, so I chose a softball here and went with my mother (sorry, Mom, but I think you know that I don’t cut you enough slack sometimes, but I love you dearly).

Finally, I was to send Lovingkindness to all beings on earth. May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings live with ease. I felt a sort of aura radiating outward from my person. It was as if I was pushing those phrases out of me in every direction as hard as I could. After only a few seconds of this, I felt tired and overwhelmed with sadness. I’m not sure why, exactly, but it happened. I was able to recenter myself by the end of the meditation, but that was an odd combination of jarring and relieving.

I don’t know what a lot of this means, yet. I’m definitely feeling a connection that I hadn’t, but I wouldn’t say that my mind is clearer right now. It feels like I threw a heavy stone of awareness into the pond that is my mind. All of the shit that had collected over the last three decades of my life has been stirred up and it’s floating around in my consciousness haphazardly.

I’m eagerly anticipating the clarity that’ll come when all the dust settles back down on top of the awareness, but it’s cloudy as fuck right now. Constantly moving in every direction that I’m pulled by my Have-To’s probably isn’t helping. I guess we’ll just have to be patient. Gods, do I hate being patient.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 17

Prime numbers, amiright?! Today’s meditation was the flip of day 15, in that I was to call up positive emotions instead of negative ones, then focus on the sensations that those feelings begat.

Pretty much the moment I hit center and was able to focus on my breathing, my dog popped into my mind. My mind conjured an image of him hugging me, and of him holding his head against mine while I pet him. I felt my love for him and his for me in that moment. Warmth radiated out from my center and I felt my face contort in that kind of weird smile people do when they’re overwhelmed by happiness (it bares some similarities to sadness in that everything pulls back and you get teary-eyed).

Then I mentally meandered for a while, trying to imagine this thing or that thing to illicit the positive emotions I was shooting for. My mind flitted through the various women I’m currently interested in, and I imagined being with them, around them, near them, etc, but honestly most of the things I imagined were just daydreams, and not actual events from my past, so I feel like those didn’t count.

I tried thinking of different words for happiness. My usual self-speak kicked in, and I was reminded of my many failures recently and farther in the past. Finally I remembered that I made a bar for myself! I felt awash with accomplishment. It had a similar radiating warmth, and I felt myself sit up straighter, and a smile pulled itself onto my face.

I refocused on my breathing, and found myself putting a lot of mental attention on my alarm and when it would be going off. When I tried pinpointing the reason for my shift in attention, I realized I was anxious about it going off. I was worried that if it went off right then (or in the immediate future), I wouldn’t have really done today’s session right. I wouldn’t have maximized my Good Feels Meditation Day because I how could I? My life is largely in shambles and so on and so forth.

I caught myself before getting too far down that rabbit hole, then took a moment to be happy about that. It wasn’t elation, necessarily, but should elation be the standard for positive emotions? I don’t think so. I think that there’s a whole range of small pleasures worth paying attention to, and if you’re looking for them, you’ll find plenty peppered throughout your day. If I’m looking, they tend to be there.

Back to breathing. And this fuckin’ itch that wouldn’t go away on the left side of my face! I caved and scratched it, which was serendipitous in that it reminded me I just got a tattoo I’ve wanted for almost a decade! I felt giddy! Again, radiating warmth, but also the smile that pulled itself onto my face was tighter than the other ones. My shoulders hunched up and my hands clenched, and I rode the feeling back to my breath.

My alarm went off, and I was largely pleased with the way today’s practice went. I veered off course a few times, but I was able to bring myself back, which is the whole point. After my meditation, I was reminded of a number of other reasons why my life isn’t so bad right now. I’m doing a lot of things that I absolutely love, and I’m doing them with a passion I haven’t had in a while. This blog is a fine example of that, as are the subjects of my happy thoughts for today.

Pleasantness in its many forms sits around us all day just waiting to be noticed – we just have to be looking. I’m gonna look harder.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 15

I can’t say I was pumped to start today’s meditation, titled Meditation On Calling Up Negative Emotion (doesn’t exactly “call up” a lot of enthusiasm, right?). After procrastinating in the form of the Ted Bundy documentary out on Netflix, I finally sat myself down, reread the instructions about three or four times so I was doing the right things in what I imagined would be turbulent waters, and dove in (or sat, rather).

Per the instructions, I spent the vast majority of the time trying to conjure up emotions by examining my memories of the recent and distant past, and replaying those scenes in my head to try and illicit an emotional response.

My dog being a dick on our walks? Well he was just nervous and excited. The recent passing of my grandmother? Well she lived a long, happy life, and she knew I loved her very much. My personal and professional failures? Well I was young and I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then. My meditative practice over the last two weeks had me shooting myself in the foot today. Each time I put myself in a time and a place where emotions ran high, my mind quickly followed it up with a rationalizations, justifications, or explanations of circumstances. To put it differently, I wasn’t feeling anything.

FEEL SOMETHING – ANYTHING – GODDAMMIT! I heard my inner voice screaming.

Finally, I got angry with myself for not being able to do this right, and I pounded my fists on my thighs and exhaled violently. That break in my physical composure (up to that point, I had been sitting with [nearly] perfect meditative posture and stillness) was enough to let the emotion itself run through my body. My shoulders tensed, my brow furrowed, I clenched every muscle in my body as hard as I possibly could. Rage ran freely inside of me, then I was exhausted by the effort, and allowed a moment to refocus on my breath and come back to center.

My back straightened, and after some doing, I was able to relax all of my muscles throughout my body and face. Huzzah! I thought to myself. I gave myself a little mental pat on the back, then focused on my breathing again. If it worked with anger, maybe it’d work with another emotion. I gave it a shot with sadness, but I got nothing. So I reworded it as loneliness, and that struck a nerve.

I felt my insides hollow out as I repeated the word to myself. I imagined the loving embraces I’ve experienced in my life, and thought about how long it’s been since I’ve had that, and how nice it would feel. There’s a sweetness to that sadness, in that it’s centered around a beautiful memory and a warmth that aren’t present in that moment. I felt exhausted again, and I let my head droop down. One single tear streamed down my right cheek (like in a fuckin’ movie), and I brought myself back to center.

I finished my meditation just focused on my breath. I felt lighter than when I started – more airy. Also thirsty. Tomorrow will be positive emotions. I’m excited to see if I will have similar difficulties tomorrow.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 12

“Good day, and welcome to Day Twelve.” – Dough McKenzie, 12 Days of Christmas

Drinking Tea Meditation. Generally speaking, I do not drink tea. Specifically speaking, I did not drink tea today. I went with Drinking Coffee Meditation instead, and I must say, I quite enjoyed it.

I found it much easier to concentrate on the present moment by honing in on minute details in everything I was doing. I cleaned out the morning’s round of coffee grounds from my reusable filter using the spray nozzle in my sink. I felt the warmth of the water against my skin. I felt the small bits of coffee bean against my finger tips. I noticed the pattern the water made as it spun in circles in the (I’m not sure what the name for it is, but it’s the cup that you put the filters into – I refuse to Google it). Then I slowly and intentionally reinserted each of the newly cleaned pieces back in their places.

I opened the bag and smelled the grounds. I actually do this every morning. It is a beautiful moment of being centered by the sensation of the inhale combined with the olfactory fireworks the ground coffee beans create. For the sake of turning the Intention dial up to 11, I stuck my nose in the bag an extra three or four times, noting the subtle differences in burnt and earthy undertones. When I pulled the bag away from my face, I noted how I found the yellow color of the bag soothing, and the blue color of the small strip with the word “Sweden” on it was equally calming and easy on the eyes.

I stepped to the fridge to grab my recently-purchased handheld Britta filter, and poured it into the back of my coffee maker. I saw the glint of the water as it left the spout. I hit the on button and felt and heard the click, and saw the green light that I associate with good things on the horizon (moving forward in traffic, a card being approved, coffee being made, etc.).

My dog barked at the neighbors entering or exiting their apartment, but I just walked silently to a point where I could make eye contact with him. When he saw me, we locked eyes and he stopped barking and put his head down. We gazed at each other motionless for a few seconds, then I returned to the coffee.

My machine is a little janky because I bought a reusable filter because ya know… the environment and stuff… But it doesn’t really fit into the machine, so the lid doesn’t close all the way. For today, though, that was convenient. I got to watch the water slowly trickle out of whatever heats it up, and land on the grounds. I saw the water collect, and I watched the ever-changing arrangement of bubbles on the water’s surface. I closed my eyes and listened to the loud, almost violent expulsion of water into the filter and the thing with the name I don’t know, juxtaposed by the soft trickle of the just-recently-coffee into the pot.

Once it was done, I poured the coffee into the mug as slowly as I could imagine. The sound reminded me of standing next to a creek on a much sunnier day than today. I lifted the mug to my face and took in a few deep breaths. Each step in the process made the aroma sweeter and smoother.

I took a sip, slurping loudly because it’s fun, and closed my eyes so I could focus on the sensations of the hot liquid hitting my tongue (lol). I felt the warmth travel down my esophagus, hit my center, and radiate out to my extremities. I realized I was being a crazy person holding the mug by the handle, and switched it up so I had my hands pressed against the sides to enjoy the tactile heat. After a few sips I brought myself out of meditation, and started writing this.

Weird side note: I could see a dude in a window across the alley from me until just now. Maybe he was also blogging. Or she. I don’t know how they identify.

Anyway, I feel good after today’s session. I’m spending a lot more time throughout my day being mindful of any given moment, and it’s paying off in terms of my mood. I’m excited to up the ante again in Week Three.

Until then, boy that was a lot of words about making and drinking coffee, huh? And take off, hosers.

Sitting and Breathing: Day 10

It was back to the sitting and breathing today for Body Sensation Meditation. For somebody who humble bragged (maybe just outright bragged) about their body awareness just two days ago, today was strong dose of reality. The point was to just sit cross-legged on the floor, back straight, and focus interchangeably on breathing and each bodily sensation that arose during the session.

Based on the sensations I felt today, I am pushing my body really hard lately. I was to focus on pleasurable and painful sensations alike, and today was largely filled with painful sensations. I felt the tension in my lower and mid-back from work and my litany of personal projects. I felt the tension around my knees and the muscles immediately around my knees, likely from the same activities. I felt the soreness in my shoulders from playing with the dog.

What I found most interesting is how my mind was able to so thoroughly and completely lose itself in thought today. On a day when I was supposed to be focusing on painful sensations, my brain kicked the imagination into overdrive, and I’d catch myself in very different times and places every time I’d return to my breath.

I gotta get to work soon. I wonder who will be there. I wonder what I’ll be doing today.

Then I’d imagine myself already at work, talking with my coworkers. Then I’d imagine getting off of work at 1:30am, and the long public transit route home, and how shitty it would undoubtedly be in zero degree (or under) weather. Then I’d feel how cold my toes were, which would bring me back into my body, and back to my breath.

Ow, my back is really hurting. Probably from all the bending over and weird angles I put myself in to finish the bar for my living room.

Then I’d wander into a hypothetical conversation with my mother about how I’m spending money frivolously, and should really be focusing on other things right now. “I spent as little as possible making this thing!” I’d argue. Then I’d play out the rest of that conversation, and I’d work myself up into a tizzy over a conversation that never happened. By the time I remembered I was supposed to be focusing on my breath, I was already pretty agitated. Then the pain came back.

I wonder to what extent I’m doing this with other pains I’m experiencing, both physically and emotionally. I wonder if my mind’s tendency to experience pain in the form of a drive to distract myself with something – anything – else is bleeding out into the rest of my life. I bet it is! I have no concrete evidence for that, yet, but I’ve got a hunch, so now I’ll be on the lookout for it.

Returning to the pain (burning, dull, aching, stiffness, soreness, tension), I was reminded of the time I modeled in the nude for a painting class. I chose what I thought would be fairly easy positions to hold for 20 minutes, and realized on the first attempt that it was harder than I anticipated. Even sitting cross-legged on the floor, on a pillow, can ware on you after a while. I started anticipating my alarm, largely because it symbolized the end to my pain, or at least the potential pursuit of another distraction (namely, writing this).

Funnily enough, when I finally surrendered to the ideal that there would be no alarm, and that the future was irrelevant to my current experience, the alarm went off. Luckily (after writing this) I have to start getting ready now, otherwise I’d be strongly inclined to do my ab workout before work, which I don’t think would do much in the way of easing my muscular tension. Maybe I can squeeze in a routine before work tomorrow, though…